The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests is the first collection of interdisciplinary essays bringing together scholars from both sides of the forty-ninth parallel to examine life in a transboundary region. The result is a text that reveals the diversity, difficulties, and fortunes of this increasingly powerful but little-understood part of the North American West. Contributions by historians, geographers, anthropologists, and scholars of criminal justice and environmental studies provide a comprehensive picture of the history of the borderlands region of the western United States and Canada.
The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests is divided into six parts: Defining the Region, Colonizing the Frontier, Farming and Other Labor Interactions, the Borderlands as a Refuge in the Nineteenth Century, the Borderlands as a Refuge in the Twentieth Century, and Natural Resources and Conservation along the Border. Topics include the borderlands’ environment; its aboriginal and gender history; frontier interactions and comparisons; agricultural and labor relations; tourism; the region as a refuge for Mormons, far-right groups, and Vietnam War resisters; and conservation and natural resources. These areas show how the history and geography of the borderlands region has been transboundary, multidimensional, and unique within North America.
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About the Author
Sterling Evans is an associate professor of history at Brandon University in Manitoba. He is the author of The Green Republic: A Conservation History of Costa Rica and the editor of American Indians in American History, 1870–2001: A Companion Reader .
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The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests
Essays on Regional History of the Forty-ninth Parallel
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
The idea to create an edited collection of essays on the history of the western
U.S./Canadian borderlands stems not from the scarcity of published
material on the subject but rather from how it has been a scattered literature.
There has also been a lack of any such collection to bring together
some of the new scholarship in what is an emerging discipline on the western
U.S./Canadian borderlands. Its emergence has been made apparent to
me at several conferences, especially at recent meetings of the Western
History Association and at the 2001 American Historical Association-Pacific
Coast Branch meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, whose
theme of cross-boundary interactions attracted a broad variety of papers
on the region.
I decided there in Vancouver to compile this book and provide a
venue for essays on the interdisciplinary nature of the region's history.
Thus The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests joins together
the works of twenty-three scholars from both sides of the border
(eleven Canadians, twelve Americans) in the fields of history, geography,
anthropology, criminal justice, sociology, and environmental studies. Interdisciplinarity
is inherently awkward to a degree,but I hope it serves its
purpose in this book by showing readers how truly multidimensional the
borderlands are. Some of the writers are prominent scholars in their fields;
others are newer to the academy, but their works will continue to add to
our scholarship on the borderlands. Their essays, researched and written
in the different styles of their disciplines, cast light on intriguing aspects
of the history of the West-a transboundary West with many dimensions
worthy of study.
These dimensions comprise what David Wrobel and Michael Steiner
referred to in their edited book on the American West as "many Wests"
and as the "extended Wests." Not only are the borderlands of the American
and Canadian Wests an extended and overlapping region; there are
four subregions in the area through which the forty-ninth parallel runs
(see figure 1). Moving from east to west, the first subregion is the northern
plains, which encompasses the borderlands of North Dakota, eastern
Montana, and southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Next is the higher
elevation Northwestern Plains and Rocky Mountain zone ("Chinook
Country," or as it was often called in the nineteenth century, "Whoop-Up
Country"), the borderlands area of central and western Montana,
southwest Saskatchewan, and southern Alberta. To the west of that region
is the Columbia Plateau (also called the Inland Empire)-the more
arid borderlands of Idaho's panhandle, eastern Washington, and southeast
British Columbia. The fourth subregion is the much wetter Pacific
Coast borderlands (sometimes called Cascadia) of western Washington
and British Columbia. (Often the Inland Empire and Cascadia are lumped
together as the greater region of the Pacific Northwest, or as William
Robbins labeled it, the "Greater Northwest.") Each of these zones is
covered in the readings that follow.
Unlike the historiography of the borderlands of the American Southwest/
Mexican North, in which a robust scholarly presence and literature
have existed for decades (especially within the larger history of the American West),
the borderlands of the forty-ninth parallel have received scant
attention. For example, in the Journal of Borderlands Studies only 5 out
of 187 articles from 1986 through 1998 dealt with the U.S./Canadian
borderlands, and only 2 of those dealt specifically with the West. The
historian Paul Sharp lamented back in 1948 that "the forty-ninth parallel
has been a far more formidable barrier to many historians than to the ...
institutions they have examined." Only a few scholars have overcome the
barrier in the past fifty years, but recently there has been new research
that is helping to bring many angles of this region's history to light.
Newer studies include emphasis on the environment, aboriginal history,
frontier interactions and comparisons, gender history, agricultural and
labor relations, various aspects of the borderlands as a region of refuge,
and its history of natural resource use and conservation.
Those areas constitute the makeup of this book. Part 1 seeks to define
the bordered region by examining questions of bioregionality, the impact
of the border, and perceptions and implications of the boundary, particularly
as they apply to West Coast Indians/First Nations, and especially
with newer implications since the events of September 11, 2001. Part 2
addresses aspects of colonizing the region in the postnational period, especially
with the region's history of colonization, ranching, and violence.
Included here is a gendered analysis of this colonization process. Part 3
discusses how various groups sought sanctuary in the borderlands of the
nineteenth century-how crossing the "medicine line" (both into Canada
and into the United States) was perceived as a refuge alternative. Part 4
examines transnational agricultural, industrial, and labor interactions in
the region. Part 5 concerns twentieth-century patterns of seeking refuge,
but now as a south-to-north crossing zone for Americans fleeing U.S.
policies. Part 6 deals with a variety of natural resource, conservation,
and environmental issues that characterize the forty-ninth parallel borderlands.
The border itself has played an important role in the region's history.
James Loucky and Donald Alper provide a useful working definition of
the role of borders in general: "[B]orders are simultaneously sites of nexus
and convergence as well as lines of delineation and disjuncture. They
are alternately flexible and fixed, open and closed, zones of transition
as much as institutional settings. As places where people meet, exchange,
and change, the areas adjoining borders are as prone to hybridization as
they are to separation and polarization."
Historian Jeremy Mouat has written that the forty-ninth parallel
"functions as a significant border ... one of the more significant western
structures.... Yet, it began as an imaginary line, born of Euclidean
geometry and geopolitics, most notably for the way in which it imposed
European definitions of space on the landscape.... Gradually this imaginary
line became real, and today one can observe at least part of its length
from outer space." But that line also represents a political boundary
separating people with a remarkably similar environment, culture, economy,
and historical experience-a point that adds to the complexity of
understanding the borderlands region.
Many studies point out that the forty-ninth parallel represents the
longest such divider between any two nations in the world, that Canada is
the largest country in the world to border only one other country, and that
some 90 percent of all Canadians live within 250 kilometers (150 miles)
of the United States. They suggest that these points have led to a Canadian
identity that University of Calgary political scientist Roger Gibbons has
labelled a "borderlands society"-tied to the United States in so many
cultural and economic ways, yet trying desperately not to be just like the
United States. Loucky and Alper conclude that "the U.S.-Canada border
has figured prominently only in the psyche of Canadians," but that "in
the United States, people strain to realize that it even exists." Albertan
singer and songwriter k. d. lang artistically commemorated this Canadian
characteristic in her album Hymns of the Forty-ninth Parallel, which was
released in 2004 while I was compiling this borderlands book. The album
pays tribute to a variety of well-known Canadian vocal artists, such as
Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, and Leonard Cohen, who,
like lang, had crossed the international boundary to enjoy success in both
Canada and the United States. The songs she covers by those and other
artists, including her own album, represent a very clear sense of place.
"The geography seeps through the lyrics and through the melodies," lang
mentioned in an interview. "I just think the vastness of the Canadian
landscape is just so much a part of these songs."
While invisible to the geography (except where marked or defined by
a swath), the border does represent a divider for some noticeable cultural
distinctions: metric and Celsius measurements to the north, standard to
the south; bilingual road signs and product labels to the north, surprise
at such from Americans entering from the south; British spellings and
the letter "zed" to the north, American spellings and "zee" to the south;
a unique Canadian accent to the north, compared with a U.S. northern
accent (somewhat different than the Canadian) on the U.S. side only in the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas,
but not in Montana westward to Washington; the widespread use of the
ever-popular and useful interrogative "eh?" north of the border, without
an equal, or use of the more awkward "isn't that right?" in the States;
ketchup-flavored potato chips, gravy on french fries, and poutine north of
the border-items not found in stores or on menus to the south; a passion
by many for the sport of curling to the north, met by bewilderment as to
why (or even what it is) to the south. There are numerous other simple
differences, reflected when crossing the border, but finding explanations
of their origins is more difficult. Still, they are small differences between
two regions with so many geographic, linguistic, historic, and cultural
No discussion of the region's borders would be complete without
mention of the American and Canadian Wests distant from the 49th parallel:
the 141st meridian borderlands of Alaska, the Yukon, and northwest
British Columbia. In first setting out on this project I considered covering
both of these western U.S./Canadian border zones. However, I quickly
realized that combining regions would add too greatly to the length of
the book and would be outside the forty-ninth parallel scope, especially
as much of the Far North's borderlands have a history and literature of
their own. Likewise, there already exists an excellent collection of essays
on the topic, although I am sure there are plenty of areas in the region's
history that are in need of new research and analysis.
Curiously, there are only a few original works and edited collections
on the history of the U.S./Canadian borderlands. There are several excellent
works on the entire borderlands of the two nations (primarily coming
from the Canadian side), yet none of these deals specifically with the forty-ninth
parallel West. For example, W. H. New's Borderlands: How We
Talk about Canada (1998) is a narrative discussion of myths, stereotypes,
and images from the perspective of a Canadian professor of English.
Robert Lecker's anthology Borderlands: Essays in Canadian-American
Relations (1991) includes a variety of excellent studies (including literary
analysis), but it examines the entire U.S.-Canada border, with more
essays on the eastern and maritime border than on the western boundary.
Borderlands Reflections: The United States and Canada (1989), by
geographers Lauren McKinsey and Victor Konrad, and Roger Gibbons's
Canada as a Borderlands Society are both short monographs that deal
with important border issues, but they are not specific to the West.
Other works are pertinent to the region, but they either cover the
whole of U.S.-Canadian relations or are limited to one of the subregions
of study here. Of note on the former are Seymour Martin Lipset's Continental
Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and
Canada (1990), Richard Gwyn's The 49th Paradox: Canada in North
America (1985), and John Thompson and Stephen Randall's Canada and
the United States: Ambivalent Allies (1997).
On the latter, five relatively recent books stand out: John Findlay
and Ken Coates's edited collection Parallel Destinies: Canadian-American
Relations West of the Rockies (2002), an excellent anthology, but it deals
exclusively with the Pacific Northwest; Beth LaDow's The Medicine Line:
Life and Death on a North American Borderland (2001), a seminal work
on many facets of the borderland of Montana and Saskatchewan; Katherine
Morrissey's Mental Territories: Mapping the Inland Empire (1997),
although only one of its chapters deals with the transboundary Columbia
Plateau in British Columbia; John Bennett and Seena Kohl's Settling the
Canadian-American West, 1890-1915 (1995), which is primarily a work
of "historical anthropology"; and Hana Samek's The Blackfoot Confederacy,
1880-1920: A Comparative Study of Canadian and U.S. Indian
Policy (1987), which is one of the best studies to date on transboundary
Native American/First Nations history but is limited in scope to the Montana/
Alberta area. Readers will find much more comprehensive reading
lists at the end of each part introduction.
Thus, to this growing literature The Borderlands of the American
and Canadian Wests is designed to add under one cover an interdisciplinary
understanding of the region's transboundary history of interactions.
The goal is for its contents and suggestions for further reading
to be useful resources for scholars, students, and the interested public
studying this North American area. They will discover, as Victor Konrad
has so well defined them, that the borderlands "are distinctive regions
of mitigating landscapes fading from the common edges of the
boundary." And with the information here, readers will be able to add
a western U.S./Canadian twist to Konrad's analysis of the borderlands
as a whole: "Between Canada and the United States, borderland regions
have emerged ... among peoples with common characteristics, in spite of
the political boundary delineated between them.... [B]orderlands exist
when shared characteristics set a region apart from the countries that
contain it, and residents share more with each other than with members
of their respective national cultures. In the Canada-United States context
particularly, borderlands are regions that have a tempering effect on the
central tendencies of each society, and these regions reveal the ways in
which the nation-states blend into each other."
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